Portugal: six independent wine estates

xThe Independent Winegrowers Association (IWA) of Portugal is a recently formed group of enthusiastic, forward thinking winery owners, with representation from most of Portugal’s key wine regions. The six members of the IWA produce more than 50 styles of wine, including dry red and white wines from the Dão, Bairrada, the Douro and Vinhos Verde, to Port and more unusual sweet and sparkling wines.

The IWA of Portugal aims to champion the best native Portuguese grape varieties, though several of the members also embrace international grapes in their wines. Each member produces wines exclusively from his own vineyards, and aims to “express the genuine terroir from each Quinta.”

Chairman is Luis Pato (right), who says: “Our wines show an oenological journey through geography, viticulture and viniculture – and the diverse personalities and objectives of each producer.”

I visited all six members estates in July 2006, travelling extensively around these regions. The members of the IWA came together for a fabulous dinner in the Bull and Bear restaurant in Oporto on our final evening, and they seemed like a genuinely gregarious, enthusiastic and passionate bunch. But they are far from homogenic: vivid differences emerged not only in the wines, but also in attitudes to various issues. Over the few days of my visit, it was the spirit of independence and a great striving for quality that particularly impressed and that binds this geographically and philosophically diverse bunch.

Quinta do Ameal, Entre-Douro e Minho

xThe Quinta do Ameal estate dates from the 1850s, but the Araujo family has owned it for just 15 years. I met with Pedro Araujo and tasted the wines under the shade of an awning outside his winery. I knew some of these wines already, as they are brought into the UK by Corney & Barrow.

Pedro is a serious winemaker, determined to show that the undervalued terroir and grapes of Vinho Verde can be harnessed to make great wines. He is particularly devoted to the Loureiro variety, which he has planted in favour of other indigenous varieties.

He makes a superior version of what might be considered ‘traditional’ Vinho Verde, with the tiniest spritz and ultra-clean character. But he also ferments and ages Loureiro in new French oak barrels for six months, and says “The floral character of the Loureiro blends perfectly with the wood aromas, adding to the overall complexity.”

Amongst a series of constant innovations Pedro has cut yields from 17 tons per acre to just five tons per acre, mostly through green harvesting. He farms organically, with cover crops – legumes, grasses and clover – grown between rows to loosen soils through the roots and get oxygen into earth. In the winery he has cut the time from tractor to press from two hours to one by re-thinking logistics, and whilst I was there he was trialing a machine from the Portuguese wine institute that stabilises wines by electro-dialysis rather than chilling to cold temperatures. Quinta do Ameal is a very personal, hands-on and high quality operation.

Quinta do Ameal, Loureiro Ponte de Lima 2005
Vinho Verde, 11.5%. Beautifully fresh and mealy, with floral and pear notes and hints of honey and peach skins. On the palate there’s a mass of lemony acidity and weighty fruit. 60,000 bottles. £8.48, Corney and Barrow.

Quinta do Ameal, Escolha Ponte de Lima 2004
A vineyard selection. Barrique fermented in three and four-year-old barriques for six months, with battonage. A definite added buttery and lightly honeyed, nutty quality. The pear quality of the fruit still comes though, with an edge of minerality and plenty of pithy, sharp as a razor acidity in the finish. Not in UK, 8,000 bottles.

Quinta do Ameal, Escolha Ponte de Lima 2001
A treat to taste a mature bottle, shown by Pedro to indicate that his Vinho Verde can age. Beautiful old Riesling-like notes of honey, wax and gentle petrolly notes. Lovely waxy fruit quality to the aromatics. Intriguing. The palate has a very dry quality, with succulence and more of that waxy character. Not available for sale.

Quinta do Ameal, Arinto 2005
Very sherbetty and touches of vegetal, leafy notes from this 100% Arinto wine, with freshly crushed herbs and grass. The palate has good weight with plenty of fresh, crisp, racy aromatics. Lots of lemon and sizzling burst of freshness. Only around 2000 bottles, but will be less as Pedro will make some sparkling wine from this base in future. Not in UK.

Casa de Cello, Entre-Douro e Minho and Dão

xThough a family wine-growing business for four generations, Casa de Cello has been making estate wines under João Pedro d’Araujo’s direction since 1996. João shrugs: “unfortunately just as Vinho Verde sales started to fall in the UK.”

The estate cannot use the name ‘Casa de Cello’ on their front labels, as the giant Sogrape has a ‘Cello’ brand that was registered first. Their Vinhos Verde appear under the Quinta de Sanjoanne label, and wines from their Dão estate under Quinta da Vegia. Left: João Pedro with his mother at the Quinta.

Leiras Mancas, Vinho Verde 2005
This entry-level wine had just been bottled and is a blend of Arinto and Avesso. A lot of sulphur at present, with some green and nettly notes coming through. Nice fresh dry apple and lemon fruit starts to emerge, which is very pith and dry.

Quinta de Sanjoanne, Vinho Verde 2005
Blend of Avesso and Loureiro. More pear and apple fruit aromas, with a touch of floral and green notes. Lovely succulent fruit on the palate, with lots of lemon and dry, apply qualities and very dry, pithy lemon finish. £5.85, Caves de Pyrene.

Quinta de Sanjoanne, Minho 2003
Has developed a honeyed quality, with a touch of waxiness and mineral. Nice mouthfilling palate, with a succulence to the fruit and a little touch of caramel. Certainly lacks the lemony acid blast of the younger wine, but retains good freshness and a lovely, long and balanced finish.

Quinta de Sanjoanne, Escolha Minho 2003
Oak fermented, a blend of Alvarinho, Avesso and 5% Chardonnay. Lots of leafy qualities here, a touch vegetal, with plenty of layered nutty and apple fruit. Broader, mouthfilling white fruit – notes of underripe melon and apple. Very savoury, with a broad-based but decisive lemony acidity. Needs food, but long and mouth-watering.

Quinta de Sanjoanne, Superior 2005
Alvarinho, Malvasia Fino. 1200 bottles. 13.9ABV. A touch of sulphur to blow off, with fresh herbal aromas and a little floral note. Quite subtle, elegant, with a chalky note and lovely dry white fruit. The palate is intensely dry, but there’s a fleshiness and fine succulent mid-palate weight. Very fresh finish, with a grapefruit and pithy dryness. Classified as “Vinho Regional”

Quinta da Vegia, Porta Fronha 2005
Touriga Nacional, Aragones (Tempranillo), Alfrocheiro. No oak. João bought this 20 hectare property in 1999, to make red wines only. Vibrant purple colour. Dry, very vinous nose, with dry cherry and redcurranty fruit, with a fine raspberry quality. Lovely raspberry fruit on the palate, with a dry grippiness, but plenty of dry, savoury fruit, if a touch inky – plenty of extraction, but retains elegance.

Quinta da Vegia, 2004
No oak, Aragones, Touriga Nacional. Much riper, sweeter fruit on the nose, with lots of blackcurrant and quite fat, sweet berry fruit that has a plushness and almost minty quality. On the palate plenty of freshness, but a ripe, full, very delicious fruit quality, with a nice bittersweet plumskin edge and a delicious, supple tannin quality. Superb. £6.60, Caves de Pyrene.

Quinta da Vegia, Reserva 2003
Touriga Nacional partly aged 5 months in oak. Very rich, with a chocolaty tone in the background and masses of ripe, pure black fruit. Little touches of earth and plummy darkness. On the palate a fine, steely core, but wrapped in ripe, sweet berry fruits and a certain spice and cedary quality. Lovely length here, and a really silky texture, with supple tannins and has retained good acidity. 5,000 bottles.

Quinta de Covela, Entre-Douro e Minho

xI was already a huge fan of these very modern, and very stylish wines from Nuno Araujo, brought into the UK by Corney & Barrow. I have recently recommended his white as ‘Wine of the Week’, and his rosé as one of my top pinks for summer 2006. Quinta de Covela is a beautiful south-facing estate, formed as an amphitheatre overlooking the Douro river. Farmed organically, 19 hectares of terraced vineyards curl around the ruins of the original 16th century manor house, in which Nuno (right) prepared a little tasting.

Nuno is convinced that it is his organic regime that has led to him producing some superb wines in a very hot, drought vintage like 2005: “the fruit retains balance and keeps its acidity and minerality.” He says his vines “absorbed the shock” of such a tough year without showing signs of distress.Nuno’s journey with Covela really started in the 1980s, when he began studies to fully understand the potential of his vineyards. Experimental planting of over a dozen grape varieties, both Portuguese and international, helped him select those that would adapt best in this terroir.

Portuguese varieties Avesso and Touriga Nacional were chosen as the backbone for white and red respectively, but international varieties like Chardonnay and Merlot were embraced too. All work on the Quinta is done by hand, and vinification takes place in both barriques and stainless steel vats.

See all Quinta de Covela stockists on wine-searcher.

Quinta de Covela, Escolha White 2004
Somewhat mysteriously described on the back label as a blend of ‘Avesso, Chardonnay, Others’, in fact there is only one more grape in the blend, and that grape is Gewürztraminer. It has a very pale colour and a particularly succulent nose, where ripe, juicy pear aromas are underpinned by a little mealy richness and highlighted by floral nuances. On the palate it is quite forceful and direct with a full, juicy, rounded palate of pear and apple fruit that is shot through with vibrant acidity, yet textured and layered with minerality and subtle, waxy lime fruit. Fresh, beautifully balanced and delightful. £8.99, Corney & Barrow

Quinta de Covela, Escolha Rosé 2004
A blend of Touriga Nacional, Merlot and ‘others’ again. It has a soft, sweet earth and plummy-fruited nose with the creaminess and richness of a red wine. On the palate it has some real structure, with a gripping edge of tannins and spice to some fine red fruit, and a warming sense of alcohol in the finish. A really nice food wine this, of excellent quality. £8.99, Corney & Barrow

Quinta de Covela, Escolha Red 2003
A base of Touriga Nacional, with some Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah in the blend. This wine is unoaked, with stainless steel fermentation (there is an oaked version too). There is a green, herbal note at first, but with 13.5% alcohol and plenty of fruit this is not underripe. There is plenty of lush, full berry fruit. On the palate that ripeness and full , sweet fruit continues, but there is crispness and crunch too, with juicy acidity and a touch of spice into the finish. £12.83, Corney & Barrow.

Alves de Sousa, Douro

xDomingos Alves de Sousa took me up the torturous and bumpy path to the very top of his Douro vineyards to see for myself the steepness, soils and sheer beauty of this site.

The name of Alves de Sousa may not be one of the best known in the Port world, but Domingos is part of a family whose vineyards have supplied the Port trade for generations. In 1987 he gave up his career as a civil engineer to dedicate himself to the five Quintas (wine estates) owned by his family, and made the decision to change from supplier of grapes, to producer of estate-bottled Douro wines. Having studied in Portugal and Bordeaux, he has built new cellars and assembled a winemaking team.

The range of wines now produced is large (and slightly confusing) with the five single quintas to contend with, plus a range of ‘personal reserve’ wines. Styles cover everything from white, rosé and red wines, to Port.

Valle da Raposa, Escolha Branco 2005
Lovely succulent pear and slightly figgy fruit, with a hint of richness and a skin-contact. Lots of richness and waxy, full quite leesy fruit, with plenty of grip and bite, and a freshening lemon acidity. 13.5% ABV

Quinta da Gaivosa, Branco da Gaivosa Douro 2005
30% in French in oak for 2 – 3 months. Fresh mint leaf and herbal notes dominate in this field blend of Malvasia and other indigenous grapes. Lightly toasty with nutty Cox’s Pippin notes and a leesy richness. Palate has plenty of grip and bite, with high concentration.

Quinta da Gaivosa, Alves de Sousa Personal Reserve 2003
Dramatically dark golden colour. Very old vines. Extremely rich, nutty, lightly oxidised notes, with masses of coconutty sweetness with butter and a certain figgy quality. The palate has a big herbal character, very like a quality white Rioja, with lots of nuttiness, apricot kernel fruit and a huge finish showing a little oak and a still plenty of acidity.

Vale da Raposa, Escolha Rosé 2005
100% Touriga Nacional, 24 hours on the skins. Lovely vibrant pink and a nose of strawberries, raspberries and cream. Palate has plenty of super sweet ripe, creamy fruit and creamy texture, with enough residual sugar to count as off dry perhaps, but then very clean acidity into the finish.

Quinta do Vale da Raposa, Tinto Cão 2004
Big, powerful, slightly raisiny, baked plum pie fruit. Lots of depth and darkness. The palate is flooded with rich, thick, berry fruits. Fine fruit sweetness, and mouthfilling baked fruit richness. Very robust and chewy tannins, and good length.

Quinta do Vale da Raposa, Touriga Nacional 2004
Minty, mulberry fruit character, with plenty of black fruit, cherry and a certain tobacco quality. Lovely fruit on the palate too, with great sweetness again and a silky quality to the texture. There’s a nice bittersweet, chocolaty richness into the finish, where spice and a savoury, chocolaty tannin quality adds plushness and depth.

Quinta do Vale da Raposa, Grande Escolha 2003
This is a ‘field blend’ with various varieties co-planted in the same vineyard. It spends six months in French oak. Spice, light toast and a sweet tobacco note. Very creamy black fruit on the palate, with masses of fruit sweetness and a thick, rich mid-palate brimming with fruit. Plum, chocolate and a certain herbal note in the background, with a really tangy, savoury finish and excellent length.

Quinta da Gaivosa, Tinto 2003
Another field blend. Big, modern, very sweet and minty nose, with lots of velvety black fruit, and a fine black chocolate richness. On the palate it is flooded with sour cherry and dark, glossy black berry fruits. There is plenty of tannin and acidity here to add structure, perhaps a touch of bitterness even, which is not at all unpleasant but adds a counterbalance to the sweetness of fruit. Lots of spice and charry toast broadens out the finish in a very full, plush, hedonistic wine.

Quinta da Gaivosa, Alves de Sousa Personal Reserve Tinto 2000
Made only in the best years. Very cedary, savoury Bordeaux-like nose, with an earthiness and touch of sweaty, muscular character. On the palate this is super smooth and very savoury, with bloody and gamy notes to the fruit and plenty of savoury, peppery dark fruit. Lovely resolved, ripe tannins. Beautiful length.

Quinta da Gaivosa, Vinha de Lordelo 2003
47 – 50 Euros per bottle, 2000 bottle production. Single vineyard wine. Seems lighter in colour and texture in the glass. Lightly minty, savoury, quite spicy and tobacco-scented nose, with a red fruit quality. Some slightly vegetal or gamy notes come through. On the palate this has beautifully sweet fruit, with fantastic summer berry compote sweetness, and a crispness about the acidity that adds a lithe, elegant spirit to the wine. Beautiful, silky tannins and length. Extremely fine.

Quinta da Gaivosa, Abandonada 2004
From a very old 70-year-old vineyard that looks as if it has been abandoned, strewn with boulders. Extremely dark, vivid colour. Portuguese oak gives a certain marzipanny, slightly volatile note. Very ripe, liquorice and fennel notes. On the palate this has massive presence: it has a very solid, chunky black fruit quality and supple, suave tannins. There’s plum and dark chocolate, and loads of sour black cherry fruit and acidity. A huge mouthful of a wine.

Quinta dos Roques, Dão

xLuis Lourenço runs this important estate in the small hamlet of Abrunhosa do Mata in the Dão. This was traditionally a farming area, growing both apples and grapes, but mostly composed of small farmers selling to cooperatives. At the beginning of the 1980s Luis made a conscious decision to re-plant with the most suitable indigenous varieties, and to start bottling his own wines, even though they knew selling these might be difficult give that the estate was basically starting from scratch.

Today, Quinta dos Roques is a relatively large producer, with 40 hectares under vine and a production in excess of 200,000 bottles, about 70% of which is exported to 15 countries, with the USA the major market.

Belgium is the main European export market for now, but the UK is set to claim that position, with sales of the excellent Quinta de Correio (previously recommend by me) helping the cause. The Quinta das Maias vineyards were purchased outright in 1997, and are situated around 30 kilometres from Roques, but all vinification takes place at Roques. These wines are imported into the UK by
Raymond Reynolds.

See all Quinta dos Roques stockists on wine-searcher.

Quinta do Correio, White Wine 2005
Lovely fresh, creamy nose, with cool pear fruit, a nice melony character. The palate has a very dry, pithy, dry white fruit character. There’s a touch of nutty Cox’s Pippin fruit, and a lemony acidity in a very dry, food-friendly finish. £4.99

Quinta dos Roques, Cercial Bical 2005
A 50/50 blend of Cercial and Bical, two-thirds in older oak barrels. There’s a sense of more plushness, on the nose here, but the fruit is still dry and nutty white fruit. On the palate lovely elegance and freshness, with pear skins and lemon rind notes, and a dry minerality. These wines are crying out for some fish or seafood, but lovely finesse and clarity.

Quinta das Maias, Malvasia Fina 2004
Fermentation starts in French oak barrels, then is moved to stainless steel to finish. Lovely honeyed edge and a little creamy note, with some rich fruit notes, a touch of caramel. Lovely weight and juiciness on the palate, with a little buttered toast quality from very nicely managed oak. Fleshy mid-palate texture gives way to searing citrus and mineral acidity. Finishes with lovely clean sweep of crisp fruit. Charming wine. £7.99

Quinta dos Roques, Encruzado 2004
Encruzado is a specifically Dão variety, now becoming more popular across Portugal. 65% fermented in oak with battonage, rest in steel. This variety takes the oak much better than the Malvasia. A lovely nutty, honeycomb and lightly charry oak quality, with a touch of caramel and mint humbug. On the palate the oak is pushed into the background by very ripe, pure apple fruit with plenty of bite and freshness. Deliciously tangy and long. Around 12,000 bottles. £9.99

Quinta das Maias, Barcelo 2004
1,200 bottles. A very difficult grape to grow, requiring masses of work in the vineyard, and has almost died out. Fermented in old 650 litre barrels. Fine pear fruit and nicely perfumed, with a little floral note and ripe melon. On the palate there is lovely richness, with just a touch of creaminess and really nice fruit. The acidity has a touch of minerality to it, with fine, dry lemony fruit. Very fine. Around 7.50 Euros, but only available locally.

Quinta do Correio, Red Wine 2003
A blend of Jaen and Touriga Nacional, with smaller amounts of Alfrocheiro Preto, Tinta Roriz and Rufete, made in all stainless steel. Recommended as one of my “top summer wines” and still delivering lots of spicy, rich fruit and fine quality at the price. £5.99

Quinta dos Roques, Red Wine 2003
A blend of Jaen and Touriga Nacional, with smaller amounts of Alfrocheiro Preto, Tinta Roriz, fermented in stainless steel and then aged 12 months in French barriques. Touches of herbs and caraway seeds in a dark, black fruited wine. The palate is quite Rhône-like, with a raspberry edge to the fruit and plenty of spice and brambly fruit. £7.99

Quinta das Maias, Jaen 2003
100% Jaen, fermented in steel then nine months in 2nd year French oak. Luis is a huge fan of Jaen “it’s more difficult to make a really good Jaen than a really good Touriga, but when we make it right it is as good, or better”. Smooth, dark, schisty character, with plenty of black cherry fruit and a certain plushness and depth. The palate has a lovely dry, dark chocolaty touch, with a violetty touch, of blue-black fruit. Juicy and rich, with a fine, savoury, supple tannic backbone and nice acidity too. Delicious. £14.99

Quinta dos Roques, Touriga Nacional 2003
100% Touriga, fermented in steel then 15 months in new French oak barriques. Lovely nose, with a touch of herbs and nutty notes, briary wood and creamy notes. Lots of svelte black fruits, black cherry and dark chocolate hints. The palate has a beautifully composed quality, with a great, layered depth of black fruits, plumskin bitter notes, silky tannins and cherry skin acidity. This stays firm and focused, with lots of clean, creamy crispness, but a plush depth too. £16.99

Quinta dos Roques, Reserva 2003
A blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Jean, Alfrocheiro Preto, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão. Stainless steel fermentation is followed by 14 months in a blend of new and second fill French barrels. Lovely big charry, smoky, deeply set briar and plush berry fruit on the nose. There’s a jammy, thick strawberry pulp sweetness, and a very inviting, open character. Rich, smoky, charry-edged mouthfilling fruit, with an earthy bramble fruit quality, but that sweet, bold blackcurrant and berry sweetness at the core. The chocolaty, thick tannins coat the mouth in this wine, with lots of spice and dryness. £16.99

Luis Pato, Bairrada

xLuis Pato, affectionately known as the ‘King of Bairrada’, is the man who has done most to put this region on the modern winemaking map. He is one of Portugal’s most controversial winemakers, and is a serious player with 65 hectares in production. From 2006 his vineyards are devoted entirely to Portuguese varieties, all international varieties having uprooted. Pato’s passion is the Baga grape, and he says his chalky clay soils are perfect for it. Other varieties like Touriga Nacional are grown on sandy soils, in a meticulously planned estate. Luis now shares winemaking duties with his daughter, Filipa.

I met up with Luis at his impressive new winery, where the underground cellars are buffered from the heat of the day by a sculpture garden. Pato means ‘duck’ in Portuguese, and a playful duck motif runs through the building, hinting at the mischief more clearly seen in the twinkle in Luis Pato’s eyes.

Whether he would admit to the labels others have attached to him – maverick, visionary, moderniser – is a moot point. Certainly wines like am icewine that is in production (assisted by freezer technology) certainly suggest some lateral thinking, but in fact the Pato concentration on indigenous grapes and matching vine to soil takes a fundamental approach, as does his use of local chestnut as well as oak in his barrel cellar. These wines are imported into the UK by Raymond Reynolds.

See all Luis Pato stockists on wine-searcher.

Luis Pato, Maria Gomes 2004
100% Maria Gomes. Quite full and peachy on the nose, with some peach kernel notes, herbal nuances but an attractive suggestion of sweetness and fatness. Lovely palate too, with an off-dry suggestion of ripe pear and lovely clean, lemon sherbetty notes with crisp acidity. Delightful.

Luis Pato, Baga Rosé 2005
Very pretty pale Oeil de Perdrix. Juicy and soft summer berry scents, but with a hint of crunchy, fresh, sherbetty quality. Very racy and fresh, tastes dry with lovely fruit quality.

Jaoa Plato, Touriga Nacional 2005
Vibrant, quite schisty nose with black cherry and racy violet and mineral notes coming through. A certain blue/black savoury fruit quality. Lovely sweetness, with a plush, glossy depth of black fruit, very fine, gentle tannin and acid structure and lots of sweet fruit depth.

Luis Pato, Baga 2005
There’s a charcoally, mineral richness to this wine, made with roto-fermentors. A lot of softness and some smoky richness. On the palate there is a touch of gaminess, and a lovely soft fruit quality but still with a nice background structure of gentle tannins and good cherry acidity.

Luis Pato, Vinha Pan Old Vines 2005
There’s a beautifully racy, juicy, crispness about the fruit on the nose of this wine made from 80-year-old Baga that spends one year in French oak. On the palate there is a leafy, elegant cherry character, with some earthiness and sous-bois. At this point Luis declares that research suggests Baga may be related to Pinot Noir, and I can see certain similarities.